Understanding 'Click Farm', And Why This Shadowy Internet Activity Is Lurking

In the world where competition is high, things are more intense at each coming day.

Not only that products are experiencing the burden to please the ever-changing needs of users that are keeping up with the trends, people and companies are also competing against each other for users, viewership and likes/followers.

When browsing for something, things should be transparent where things are straightforward. Like for example, searching for something using a search engine should land users on choices.

But in the modern age of technology where there are too many similar products, there are just too much to show at any given time.

Fortunately, algorithms can help sort things out. By digging deep into the database, algorithms can help rank which website/app is better suited to certain users, based on their query. But unfortunately, the algorithms can be tricked.

Click farm

Search engines for the web, as well as search engines on app stores, use algorithms to help rank websites/apps, with the former having what's called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and the latter with App Store Optimization (ASO).

Following optimization methods, the algorithms can promote things to the top of their lists, if they are deemed useful and beneficial to users.

However, these algorithms can easily be fooled using 'black hat' strategies, including what's called the 'click farming method'.

This is a form of click fraud, where specialized software, or also called bots, installed on devices to automate the process.The strategy is that the software work by taking advantage of algorithms weaknesses, by clicking on links, surf the target website for a period of time, and/or to download a certain app over and over again, or possibly sign up for newsletters prior to clicking another link.

These businesses also provide engagements in the forms of social media interactions, including likes, followers and comments.

For many of the fraudsters who hired this kind of service, they can simply boost their visibility without the hard work. With enough clicks and viewership, they may generate substantial revenue increase with a little amount of efforts spent.

There are two ways of click farming:

  • Hiring competitor fraudsters to deplete the advertising budget of the competitor. This would have the competitor's ads to be shown on higher pay-per-click rankings at a lower cost. In this case, the fraudster wants to weaken its competitor.
  • Hiring/using click farms for engagements and interactions on themselves. This way, the fraudster can increase its own ranking.

Despite the risks of being downranked or even banned, buying services from click farms is seen as effective and relatively cost-efficient way of promoting something within a short period of time.

Because people tend to check on ratings and reviews, including likes and followers, as well as the credibility of websites before they choose to buy something, this shows the increasing importance that businesses, celebrities and other organisations put on the number of engagements they have.

This creates monetary values, which means that people and businesses feel compelled to increase engagements to create a positive online profile.

Because the result of a highly-ranked website, apps and social media account can earn huge popularity, fraudster can use this advantage to attract advertisers, affiliate partners, or chances to win certain things.

While click farm services and those who use them violate many online services' policies, there are no government regulations that render them illegal.

Consequently, click farms that create illusions of popularity, became the substantial, shadowy part of the internet.

Click farm

Since these fake engagements ruin many legitimate platforms which users rely on for honest advice, many organizations are keen to stop this fraudulent behavior from happening.

Search engines, app stores and social media networks are continuously tweaking their algorithms to prevent this kind of fraud by seeking unusual activities, and yes, they are getting better in spotting software-based clicks and engagements.

However, when these fraudsters use actual humans to do the fake engagements, this can be a different matter.

Besides using specialized software, click farms can also hire large group of low-paid human workers.

it is extremely difficult for algorithms' automated filter to spot this fraud and mark its engagements as fake because their behavior is exactly the same as actual users. The result of humans in doing all the interactions, those fake engagements can easily pass the filters.

These click farms are usually located in developing countries where wages are relatively, such as China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. These services use proxy servers or VPN, where their human workers earn only a few dollars per a thousand of fake engagements they made.

The click farms then sell their services at a much higher price.

Click farms are the inevitable side-product that came into existence because of the way the internet entices us to play this game in the first place.

For end users and viewers, there is practically nothing they can do to stop these click farming activities.

But they can negate much of the manipulation by thinking critically about everything they see. It all depends on how people perceive information. For example, if a someone that never appeared on any media has more followers than a Hollywood celebrity, that account is probably a fake.

Here, people need to suspect everything, always seek for reliable sources for confirmation, and believe in nothing without proof.

Read: 'Click Farms', And Why The Internet Business Is Frowned On, But Remain Legal